When Children See a Parent as a Person

 

parents are people, kids recognizing parents as people,

Every evening at church camp was the same. We tidied up our cabins and then met back at the lodge. There we were taught songs and led in quiet games. Ours was a reserved sort of Christianity. The Presbyterian church  I was raised in proffered no talk of hell or being saved, no witnessing. The congregation was friendly in a formal sort of way. (Even so, I don’t think they entirely deserved the denomination’s nickname—“God’s Frozen Chosen.”)

I was nine years old that summer. My father had volunteered to serve as one of the camp counselors and bunked halfway up the hill in a cabin with the older boys. I was assigned a cabin at the bottom of the hill with the younger girls.

On our last evening of the week-long camp we were called out of the lodge after the final song. There stood our recently ordained young minister. He held flaming torches in his upraised hands like some illustration from a storybook. He passed them out to the counselors and told us to follow.

This was highly irregular. Fire? Hiking after dark? Staying up past bedtime? Our speculative whispers were unsuccessfully hushed by the grown-ups. We arrived at the clearing where morning worship services were held. It looked different at night. Shadowy trees loomed over the ring of log seats. Adults leaned their torches toward a dark stack of wood until a bonfire flared.

The minister offered a prayer and then talked about faith. I was so caught up in this out-of-the-ordinary moment that I didn’t pay close attention to his words. Who would? Kids know grown-ups like to go on and on about things. It’s best to let them. Meanwhile, I was mesmerized by the flames and how different our faces looked in the firelight.

Then the minister asked a question, something about how we knew God in our hearts. Silence settled over our group. None of us were familiar with faith discussed in such personal terms. The pastor looked around the circle with an expression kids know all too well. It’s the look teachers get when they are going to call on someone.

I was so timid that I tended to blush even for other people. One day in school, after his family had vacationed in Hawaii, Doug Bloomfield brought a grass skirt to Show & Tell. He cheerfully clicked on a cassette of exotic music, pulled the skirt over his pants, and demonstrated a hula dance. He didn’t seem at all embarrassed. In my third row seat I blushed a red so deep that kids actually looked away from the hula spectacle to stare at me.

Until now I’d liked this strange after-dark event. The cool night air scented with burning wood felt magical. But I was pretty sure asking people to talk about their own religious experiences was rude. Already I felt flustered on behalf of whoever might have to answer. The minister stopped waiting for one of us to volunteer. He chose someone.

The person he asked was my father.

My dad, a quiet and low-key man, wasn’t one to speak up in front of others. There was a long pause. I was sure I could feel his distress. Then my father spoke. He talked a little about growing up in the country where he spent time in the woods and fields. He said he still felt closest to God not in church, but when he was out in nature. He finished by saying he liked silence and that was a way of praying too.

A moment comes when a child begins to see a parent as a separate person. This was such a moment. I knew my father was drawn to the outdoors. He took us hiking, showed us how to skip stones across the water, let us get muddy. But this was a larger context. I saw he had his own reasons to spend time outside. I recognized my father as a man whose life was bigger than I’d imagined.

Although this was my first glimpse of him as a person in his own right, I also I felt closer to him. That’s because what he spoke my truth too. In the little forest behind our house I liked to go to a particular spot by myself. I didn’t have the words for it, but when I sat quietly there I had a sense of being in a sacred place. I looked across the circle at my father and loved him more than ever. He looked back at me. His face was luminous in the firelight.

seeing parent as a person, church camp,

Angry Stranger’s Gift

angry stranger, gift of impatience, tolerance, soul moment,

Years ago I waited in a convenience store line in complete desperation. I was still bleeding after giving birth to my daughter and needed pads. The customer ahead of me was working her way into a snit because the store was out of an item she wanted. She refused to buy similar products the clerk offered. I stood behind this customer trying to keep from judging her (and failing). She was middle-aged or older, wearing expensive clothes and fussily styled hair, but what really defined her was the kind of self-absorption that turns a minor inconvenience into a personal offense. She demanded someone check the back room where she was sure the product languished due to employee laziness. She demanded to see the manager, who wasn’t there. She. Wouldn’t. Leave.

I was so exhausted that I simply wanted to curl up on the floor. It was the first time I’d left my baby’s hospital bed for more than a few minutes. My newborn suffered from a serious malady that hadn’t yet been diagnosed. She was increasingly losing weight and vigor. All the while I missed my three-year-old fiercely. I hadn’t seen him for days aside from brief hugs in the parking lot. I spent all my time by my baby’s side. It was a triumph when I could get her to nurse for a few moments. Sleep deprived and terrified for my baby girl, I clung onto hope like a parasite.

The customer ahead of me was now yelling. I assumed she’d had no greater trouble in her life than being deprived of a convenience store product. I realized that she may have been older than my own mother, but she had less maturity than my firstborn who knew enough to respect other people and more importantly, to care about them.

I’d been in the hospital environment for so many days that simply driving to the store was a sensory overload. Bright sunlight, traffic, people engaged in daily activities were all so overwhelming that I felt like a tourist visiting for the first time. Maybe that’s why I felt a sudden tenderness for the customer ahead of me. It was as if some surface reality melted away to expose this woman’s beautiful soul. I didn’t know if she was going through a difficulty that left her frantic to have her needs, any needs, recognized. Or if she had experienced so few difficulties that she hadn’t developed any tolerance for disappointment. It didn’t matter. I saw her as utterly perfect. In that moment I felt nothing less than love.

Just then she whirled around and left. I exchanged a look of solidarity with the clerk, made my purchase, and drove back to the hospital. That encounter not only gave me a powerful surge of energy, it also boosted my spirits in a way I can’t explain. It was a boost that lasted. All these years later I remain grateful.

Dreaming of Halos

what's a halo mean, auras,

Louis Welden Hawkins – The Haloes, 1894

Dreams are a stairway to what’s beyond our ordinary awareness. That’s true of daytime dreams—aspirations that become more achievable as we help each other make our wishes come alive.  But here I mean dream dreams, you know, ones the dictionary defines as a “series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.”

Some of us more easily recall dreams than others. Apparently this has to do with reactivity in certain regions of the brain, although experts insist we can train ourselves to more effectively remember dreams.

No matter the facts, I like to talk about dreams. I’m fascinated by cultures where dreams are discussed and used as a way of tapping into a stream of wisdom that’s forgotten in so-called advanced societies.

And I love to get together with friends for dreamwork sessions where we share and investigate our dreams, something we do far too infrequently but always find illuminating.

If I had better follow-through for this passion I’d be one of those people who keep illustrated dream journals where the guidance found in dreams is recognized. Alas, I’m not. I only write down dreams when they linger in my head long after I’ve woken, in a not-remotely-arty Word doc.  Though I started this particular doc back in 2000, I’ve recorded only a few dreams each year. Most of the time they ramble along in weirdly disjointed anti-logic, as dreams tend to do. But several feel like teachings. Here’s one from August 2007 that stays with me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A dark-haired child in medieval dress, somewhere between five and eight years old and with a wise aspect, was my guide in this brief dream.

She showed me a number of different paintings. They rose up before me from nowhere with complete darkness around them. Most were icons or close-ups of religious paintings, all with halos around people’s heads.

I thought to myself that the halos seemed like auras, trying to notice which were painted with solid lines and which were more diffuse. The moment I tried to apply logic the pictures stopped.

The child explained. She used words that were simple, beautiful, and had the resonance of the ages behind them. I cannot recall most of what she said, as it was well beyond my understanding, but I’ve retained the following meaning.

The accepted beliefs and worldview of an era form a sort of perimeter around each person. This is the way of people. Those who have been called mystics and saints are people who perceive what’s beyond these boundaries. This perception, this apprehension of something greater, causes the perimeter itself to glow. The breaching of what’s closed is powerful energy.

I wish I could express it better. In the dream I could feel what pulsed at the juncture of small human reality and larger Truth as a kind of electricity or creative force. It emitted light. The energy was generative and alive with possibility. I was awed to glimpse it, even as dream material.

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach. Carl Jung

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Resources for those of you fascinated by the dream wisdom accessible to us all.

Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff

anything by Carl Jung, such as The Essential Jung

anything by pioneer of Active Dreaming, Robert Moss

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream by Andrea Rock

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant (sci-fi world where reality is shaped by dreams)

energy of halos,

Antonio Mancini- Self-Portrait, 1883